Tag Archives: de Waal

2017 Priorities for Innovation, Automation

At the dawn of another year, it’s always helpful to reflect back and examine the last 12 months. What happened that surprised us? What were we proud of? And what lessons did we learn?

In 2016 our entire industry went from one that was slow to adopt emerging technologies to one that is well on its way toward digital transformation. With increasing disruption in the form of innovation and new market entrants, we’ve moved more quickly toward progress than any time in history.

And while this is a notable achievement (especially in the Property + Casualty insurance), reports show that there is a real movement for Straight-Through-Processing between all business processes.

In the employee benefits/group insurance space that I work in, our experience is that insurance companies want to streamline all data. One of the prerequisites is eliminating the re-entry of data. For example, pushing CRM data to a rules-based underwriting and rating engine.

Sending the information into illustrations and proposals and then populating an electronic application (e-app) into an enrollment component, where the insurer can cross-sell optional voluntary products is gaining traction. As are web services into various broker exchanges and automated renewals with seamless movement of data between claims and policy administration vendors into the sales and underwriting system.

See also: Top 10 Insurtech Trends for 2017  

However, many manual processes are still dominant across certain areas of insurance such as new case on-boarding, platform integration and voluntary product offerings (critical illness and accident), revealing there is still work to be done.

In just one year, carriers have had to mobilize intelligently. They’re making strategic decisions that salvage previous investments in IT and equip present ones for growth. Taking large strides toward innovation and the Internet of Things gives insurers the inevitable benefits of this shift more quickly, too.

5 Key priorities

Goals drive action, and Celent’s Life/Health Insurance CIO Pressures and Priorities 2016: North American Edition report outlined the following as some of the top business goals influencing CIO’s of mid and large sized carriers in 2016:

  • Growth and retention
  • Process optimization
  • Regulatory requirements
  • Innovation
  • Cost reduction

Charged with finding the right solutions to realize these goals, IT departments have had important investment decisions to make. Not just for solutions that help achieve objectives today, but also ones that ensure mid-term and long-term success as well.

Adapting to Disruptive Technology

Insurtech is now a fully fledged stream of fintech with $1 billion of venture capital invested in 47 deals in the first half of 2016, Life Insurance International revealed. That’s great news for insurers. Contrary to what some others experts think, I believe insurtech to be more complementary to insurers as opposed to competition.

Modernization of core legacy systems, new insurance exchanges and changing business models (platform and peer-to-peer) defined the year. They will continue to do so as carriers adopt digital strategies.

Blockchain cryptocurrencies (Bitcoin), Artificial Intelligence (AI and chat bots), and sensor technology (wearables and autonomous cars) are taking hold in insurance and providing ample opportunity for disruption. The Internet of Things (IoT), the foundation for many emerging technologies, has irrevocably changed the way companies and consumers communicate. These trends are accelerating.

See also: 5 Predictions for the IoT in 2017  

Of course, Big Data, analytics and cloud technology are all part of the mix as well. Juggling the onslaught of new innovation and understanding how it can be used to create a competitive edge – very quickly – can be disconcerting. However, these disruptive forces should be seen as the catalyst necessary for the kind of dramatic change required to spur growth and new insurance products.

Regulations Impact Technology

Last April the US Department of Labor (DOL) set new regulations on the way agents and brokers will be compensated when advising on employee retirement plans or individual retirement accounts (IRAs).

Scheduled to be in place by April 2017, the fiduciary rule will also affect strategic decisions for technology, compliance, products and employee training. Advisors and insurers must navigate which products the rule affects and how it will impact clients and operations.

The proposed International Capital Standard (ICS) stands to address the capital requirements of global systemically important insurers and internationally active insurance groups. This unprecedented global measure is intended to regulate the capital allocations of international insurers.

And while ICS is not yet enacted, international insurance carriers are encouraged to participate in forums and groups. This will help shape this global initiative to ensure key business concerns are addressed by the regulation. For a deeper understanding of the new standards, see this recent report by Price Waterhouse Cooper.

2016 in a Nutshell—and Moving Forward

So can we wrap up 2016 in a bow?

A lot of progress was made. But there is still a long way to go. It will take not place overnight, within a year or even a few years. It is a new paradigm that will continue evolve right along with us. The benefits of which will be felt as swiftly as companies are willing to change.

Automation, integration and digitization are creating solutions for straight-through processing. They’re yielding faster turnaround times, reducing errors and optimizing workflow, creating the kind of connected insurance that customers and advisors are hungry for.

“The secret to change is not to focus your energy on fighting the old but on building the new.” Those words of wisdom could have been uttered by a top management guru. But they were said by Socrates 2,400 years ago!

Building the new—and building on the old, too. As we approach 2017, it’s clear that’s what the insurance industry leaders intend to do.

4 Ways to Manage Remote Workers

Very few entrepreneurs can go from idea to success without a team of people supporting their projects. Besides hiring people in-house for human resources, marketing, production and service jobs, they may need to hire virtual employees and contractors to fill these positions. Either way, they need to create and foster a team-based environment to create a feeling of accountability and responsibility within the shared goal of success.

Creating a team atmosphere can be very difficult with virtual staff, whether employees or contractors. It’s a growing issue because technology opens up so many options for people around the world to work together as a team. According to Gallup, as many as 37% of workers were telecommuting as of 2015.

But there’s more to teamwork than simply working together on the same project. Teamwork involves a sense of camaraderie, support, respect and cohesiveness that can’t always be manufactured simply by the process of a shared project.

See also: The Keys to Forming Effective Teams  

Remote teams are not at a disadvantage in terms of overall performance. In a study conducted by MIT, it was found that teams of dispersed, remote workers often outperformed teams composed of workers within the same location. In part, this is due to the increased productivity that employees and contractors enjoy while working on their own, within their own ideal environment.

But to truly harness that productivity, entrepreneurs with dispersed teams must learn to effectively manage those teams and create a sense of teamwork within them. This can be done by:

  1. Having at least one face-to-face or screen-to-screen meeting. Even virtual face-to-face communication, such as through sites like Skype, helps build relationships and foster trust within the team. People like human contact.
  2. Encouraging collaboration. There is a difference between true collaboration and simply working together. Collaboration allows the team to get excited over a shared goal and inspiration, rather than simply doing their part to achieve an end to a project. Schedule occasional brainstorming chats or conference calls to foster a collaborative environment.
  3. Being clear about expectations, guidelines and standards. One of the best ways to undermine a team is to give every member a different set of rules to play by. Assume that your team members are going to talk and share information outside of scheduled meetings. Keep all their expectations, guidelines and standards uniform so there is no jealousy, competitiveness or implied favoritism.
  4. Giving the team a place to collectively debrief. Create a “virtual water cooler” so that remote employees and contractors can talk, exchange ideas and have an informal place to bond outside of meetings, Harvard Business Review suggests. You can do this by setting up a private group on a social networking platform or by using a program that has group chats or forums.

In a world where more and more employees are working remotely, it is important to take extra steps like these to create a team environment among people who don’t work in the same location. The result can be a sense of community and loyalty that cannot be quantified. Feeling like you’re part of the team leads to lower employee turnover, greater job satisfaction and higher productivity and creativity.

See also: How to Pick Your Insight Team  

So why not schedule that weekly team call? And allow the same technology that enables us to work apart to bring us together.

6 Tricks and Tools for Securing Your Data

Technology is something of a double-edged sword for insurance brokers. It provides us with the perfect tools to offer accurate field underwriting, efficient claims and policy processing, thorough record-keeping and faster issuing of policies.

But that’s just one side of the story.

On the other side—the darker, far uglier underside—technology has opened us up to liabilities and compliance nightmares through data breaches, hackers and other cybersecurity risks.

See also: How Safe Is Your Data?  

While these cybersecurity threats should keep brokers on their toes, they don’t have to transform you into a tech-fearing Luddite. Here are six tips to help you avoid cybersecurity threats while still embracing technology:

1. Stay aware of the threats. From Trojans to worms, viruses to hackers, disgruntled employees to simple mistakes, potential data breaches lurk around every corner. You can stay aware of the changing threat environment and protect yourself with a system such as McAfee or AVG, but you also need to occasionally read tech blogs to understand what new threats are emerging.

2. Control your user permissions. With employees coming and going, people working remotely and more smartphones accessing company networks, it’s more important than ever to tightly control user permissions within your brokerage. Limit the access that offsite employees have and make sure to revoke unnecessary permissions when employees leave or change positions. Software such as Varonis can assist you.

3. Update passwords regularly and frequently. One of the easiest ways for a hacker to breach your system is by cracking your password—which is increasingly easy to do when the most popular passwords include “password” and “123456.” Make sure you and each of your employees changes passwords several times a year. You can use programs such as Dashlane Business to manage passwords, generate unique passwords and create two-factor sign-in authentication for device access.

4. Stay safe in the cloud. Brokers are increasingly relying on cloud-based data storage solutions, but not every cloud is created equal. Make sure the clouds you use have features such as encryption when files are being transferred as well as when they’re not. Secure clouds use data file “sharding”—a process in which data is broken up into several different portions, each of which is encrypted separately.

See also: New Channels, New Data for Innovation  

5. Create a post-breach action plan. None of us ever intends to be breached, but even if we do all we can to avoid it we could still become victims. If we do, we need to act quickly. That’s why it’s good to have a post-breach action plan as part of your general disaster planning.

6. Choose the right collaborative software. Whether you have employees working remotely or you have online meetings and webinars, you need to choose collaborative software that minimizes your risk of data breach. Choose tools that encrypt messages and have two-factor authentication at sign-in. There are many options, including HighQ and Syncplicity.

5 Things Sailing Taught Me

Most entrepreneurs don’t just want to be entrepreneurs—they have to be entrepreneurs.  

As a driven entrepreneur in the insurance industry, you will encounter both challenges and rewards far beyond that of the average employee. Navigating these ups and downs can be as challenging as steering a ship through a storm on the high seas, but I’ve done both—and lived to tell the tale.

The lessons I learned sailing the seas have served me just as well on land. Here are five tips about entrepreneurship that sailing has taught me:

  1. Know the terminology

In sailing, understanding boating terms like aft, starboard and leeward is vital to working with your crew and operating your vessel. The same is true in business. If you can`t speak the language of your clients and your competition, your next deal may get lost in translation.  

Attending conferences and taking courses are both great ways to learn new terms and highlight that there`s a reason why you’re the expert.

  1. Use trends like the wind

When sailing, jibing and tacking help you manipulate the winds to steer your vessel in the right direction. In business, trends are your winds, and you need to understand which direction they`re heading. Take a few minutes every day and bring yourself up to speed on the latest global and local trends.

Aggregators like Feedly or SmartNews, along with social media feeds, keep you on the cutting edge and aware of which way the wind is blowing.

  1. Learn when to tighten or ease the sheet

The sheet is a line or rope used to adjust a sail against a force of wind.  

In business, you need to think about when to tighten or loosen your budget and your business’s growth in line with your sales cycle and market forces.

Markets ebb and flow, and your business will, too. Tracking these fluctuations over time will help determine the ideal time to launch marketing campaigns and hire employees, or to tighten the purse strings.

  1. Adjust quickly and wisely to a changing climate

The weather can change in an instant when you’re sailing, and you need to know how to use the sails to compensate, navigate under tough conditions and capitalize on whatever’s thrown at you. It`s not much different when you`re a leader in business.

Like the weather, business is always moving and changing. Whether you`re steering your ship at sea or driving your business on land, it takes experience and at times raw courage to weather a storm. See each storm as a chance to gain experience for the next one and know that sometimes you simply need to batten down the hatches – and wait it out.

  1. Be a decisive captain

It can take an entire crew to run a sailboat, but they won’t work effectively without a captain calling the shots. The crew rely on your vision, tenacity and experience to guide their actions. Without this direction, no one will know which way to travel.

As the captain of a ship or a business, you spend your days adjusting your sails, guiding the crew and at times navigating dangerous waters. If you’re on the verge of starting a business or taking it in a new direction, remember one thing above the rest – always keep your hand on the helm and keep in mind:

The pessimist complains about the wind. The optimist expects it to change. The leader trims the sails and sets a new course.

Teamwork Lessons From Navy SEALs

Navy SEALS are the ultimate team. Through precision teamwork, they accomplish almost-impossible feats, such as safely hunting down Osama bin Laden at night in a foreign country. While each SEAL is a formidable fighting machine, it’s the team that does amazing things.

Working in the insurance industry isn’t hazardous to life and limb, but it’s also a team endeavor. Success requires well-honed teams of underwriters, actuaries, agents, marketers, IT experts and others. No one succeeds without good teammates — something I was taught during team-building activities and something I was reminded of recently.

After attending a Blue Cross Blue Shield conference in San Diego, 32 of us attended a Navy SEAL boot camp on Coronado Island. This “light” boot camp was a great experience, giving us a small insight into what our servicemen and -women go through during initiation and the importance of teamwork in the military and business.

We were put into two teams of 16 that were then broken up into four boat crews with people of similar heights.

There was the usual physical training, during which we were told we were too hot (so we had to cool off and get into ocean) and then too clean (so we had to roll in the sand) and then too dirty (so we had to get back into the ocean). There were team obstacle races, memory games, log drills, runs, cold ocean work and more — all starting at 5:30 a.m.

So why wasn’t I in my comfortable hotel bed at that early hour? Because it was fun, and, once I started, I didn’t want to let my team — or myself — down.

Finishing the boot camp was something I couldn’t have done on my own, but having teammates meant I didn’t get an automatic pass. I still had to learn to work with those teammates in the same way mountain climbers must work with theirs — and you must work with yours.

See also: The Keys to Forming Effective Teams

Here are some lessons I learned while at the boot camp:

Help, encourage and trust your teammates 

While racing and carrying a log overhead, the first thing our four-man boat crew did was try and assess how we could best help each other carry the weight. We knew we needed to step in-time so that we would not trip on each other. Walter, an ex-Marine, called out the steps from the rear. During the race, another teammate’s shoulder became very sore due to a recent operation. I moved forward to take his weight. We stayed positive, encouraged each other — and we ended up beating the young guys.

Communicate and establish a shared vision

At first, it was a little hard to communicate (as none of us knew each other), but we knew that the sooner we could communicate the sooner we’d have an advantage. Together, we decided what the core mission and everyone’s role was. This might seem obvious, but it’s easy to lose sight of goals when faced with challenges. Whether you support your team by linking arms and sitting in the ocean while being pounded by waves or implement software or work to win market share, a shared vision will keep the team focused and on-track.

Be flexible, keep it fun and stay warm

You might have a plan, but be ready to make adjustments at any time. Just when we thought we understood a drill, our instructors would make it a little more interesting. Todd, my teammate with the sore shoulder, got our boat crew singing during our runs. I encouraged our crew to hug to stay warm when many began to shiver from the cold-water drills. Together, as a team, we finished the boot camp. There were some who gave up or got hurt; they grabbed a doughnut and a coffee and left. But we hung in there, breaking the boot camp activities down into one task at a time — and we got through each of those tasks together.

All of us will inevitably have our own mountains to climb and oceans to cross. Yet, regardless of the landscape, we will require the help of others to reach our destination. Through the power of positive teamwork, we can harness skills beyond our own and achieve success we might not otherwise see.